Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Multan – The City of Saints and Blue Pottery

I had never gone to Multan till 2002 – and even the idea of going to the scorching place would make precipitate. But one day I got my orders for posting to Multan and this gave me a chance to know and explore Multan for the first time – and that first time became so memorable that even after spending some three years at Multan, I still cherish my memories of this saintly city.

How old is Multan – no one really doesn’t know. But when it comes to tracing history, we find Alexander of Macedonia marching towards Multan somewhere in 326 BC in a bid to capture the stronghold, then bounded by a high wall – the remains of which are still faintly visible. And it was here that he was wounded with an arrow on the protective wall of the old city fort, still known as the “Khooni Burj (the bloody bastion)”. And since then, Multan continues to live on as perhaps the only living city since 326 BC.

More than me, my wife is familiar with each and every street of Multan where local experts make wonderful embroidered cloth. Multan and embroidery are synonymous to each other as almost every household in the inner city and those in its suburbs earn their living from embroidery – which leaves one spellbound as totally illiterate men and women produce embroidery of such a high quality that cannot be imagined (needless to mention almost one fourth the price of the same quality in larger cities). Earthenware pottery, painted potter, camel skin ware (e.g. lamps); carpets wooden products are also some of the specialties of old Multan.

While the history of Multan is worth reading, I may mention here something about the Zamzamma – the mighty gun now placed in front of the National Council of Arts on the main Mall Road. When in 1818 the city was seized by Ranjit Singh, this famous gun, which was captured by the Sikhs from the Muslims and was then called “Bhangian di Tope” (the gun of Bhangis), was ransported to Multan from Lahore to storm the city with hundreds of one ton heavy steel balls. Nawab Saddozia, who was then the ruler of Multan died fighting the Sikhs along with his five sons. Multan fell to Sikhs on 2 June 1818 A.D.
Multan is also famous for its mangoes and cotton. The ever rising mercury that makes one’s life precipitous, it is this weather that makes it growers grow the top most qualities of mangoes and cotton. And this brings me to the famous Persian couplet:

Chahar chheez tohfa ast Multan”
“Gard o Garma, Gada o Gooristan”

The couplet translates “”There are four gifts of Multan - Gard (dust), Garma (scorching summers), Gada (beggars) and Gooristan (graves).” One has to visit Multan to find out how true this saying goes about Multan. Although, many countries like China and Brazil are entering into mango export, but those with a taste can always make out the difference between the mangoes from Multan-Pakistan and others. The special qualities of “Chaunsa, Anwar Ratol and Langra” are world famous for their tastes, flavour and sweetness. Shujabad tehsil of Multan produces some of the best mangoes in Pakistan.

Beside mangoes, cotton and the embroidery, people of Multan are a special breed – simple, honest and extremely hospitable. They would treat guests as something a gift of Heavens and go all out to show their immense hospitality.

Multan is also famous for its Blue Pottery and cottage industry making raw cloth. The State owned Blue Pottery factory produces eye catching blue pottery vases, shields, pots, tiles and many more products. Besides, “Multani Khussa” - embroidered footwear both for men and women is also class of its own.

And coming to the reverence, Multan is known as the city of saints. During 12th century, saints and sufis came this way to invite the dominant Hindu populace to Islam and then lived on here till death. Here saints like Hazrat Bahauudin Zakaria, Sha Rukn-e-Alam and Hazrat Shah Shams Tabraiz are buried in tombs that are architectural marvels beside being of spiritual value to their innumerable followers.

Just near the saintly graves is the Qila Kohna Qasim Bagh or the Multan Fort was built on a mound separating it from the city and the old bed of River Ravi. The fort had four gates with separate bastions. The walled city is densely populated with narrow streets, winding lanes and old style houses built quite close to each other. Besides the gates, “Ghanta Ghar” - the clock tower, just like that of the Faisalabad add majesty to the old city of Multan.
River Ravi once skirted the walls of Qilla Kohna and Bohar Gate. The river flowed from Bohar Gate to present day Chowk Bazar. The city was located on two islands which were some 100-150 feet high, and the entire population once lived inside the old fort. Later it started changing its course and now flows some 40 kilometres north near Kabirwala. Till 18th century, river Sutlej also flowed very near to the then Multan.

I was lucky to have seen Multan from every angle and wandered in the streets where once the marching armies of the Alexander rode on battle horses or the saintly places where once the most revered saints of their times preached the teachings of Islam and wisdom. Had I not got a chance to see Multan, I would have surely missed out this great city which lives on since time immemorial.


Anonymous said...

I have liven in Multan for six best years of my service. This is why I still love Multan. Nice post.

Jalal HB said...